Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Safe Deposit Boxes: They Aren’t As Safe As You May Think

Safe deposit boxes, kept in bank vaults behind thick layers of steel, are widely believed to be one of the most secure ways to store valuables. However, people should make certain considerations and be aware of certain misconceptions before placing their valuables in a safe deposit box.

One major misconception is that valuables placed in a safe deposit box are covered by FDIC insurance. The FDIC only insures bank deposits in FDIC-insured banks, but safe deposit boxes are not considered to be bank deposits and are not covered. In addition, only banks found to be negligent are legally required to cover losses in the event of damage or theft of a safe deposit box’s contents. Some homeowner insurance policies will cover losses, so check with your insurance provider. Bank robberies and major natural disasters happen more in the movies than they do in real life, so these aren’t huge concerns, but safe deposit box holders should understand the limits of their protection.

An interesting story was published in the BBC today that should be of interest to people who keep their valuables in safe deposit boxes. The story is about a man in India who kept his life’s savings inside a safe deposit box in a bank that developed a termite problem. The bank posted a notice warning customers, but the man did not visit the bank on a regular basis and never saw it. On his next visit to the bank, all he found in his safe deposit box was a pile of termite dust where once there had been money and investment papers. Because the bank posted a notice, and because the safe deposit box itself was not damaged, the bank was not found liable.

The lessons of this story are 1) Make sure you understand exactly what is and is not covered by the bank when you open the safe deposit box, and 2) Make sure you have insurance to protect whatever is not covered by the bank. If you put your entire life savings in one spot, make sure it is 100 percent safe and secure.

Safe deposit boxes have their place. Your valuables are certainly much safer in a safe deposit box than they would be in your home, and many insurance companies will charge lower premiums for coverage of certain valuables if they are held in a safe deposit box. If you are storing investments such as gold or other precious metals, a safe deposit box will probably be your best bet. However, it is important that people understand exactly what they are getting with a safe deposit box, so they do not enter the arrangement with any preconceived notions. If you want to make sure your valuables are protected, ask questions and then get additional insurance if necessary.

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